When Brian Burke was hired by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2008, there were expectations that the Leafs would return to glory.
Burke had been the general manager of the Anaheim Ducks when they won the Stanley Cup in 2007. He had a track record of success, and there was every reason for the Maple Leafs to expect a return to prominence under his stewardship.
That did not happen. It was not even close. It may not be all Burke's fault, but the Leafs did not even get back to the postseason while Burke was general manager of the Leafs and the team's Board of Directors fired him from that position (source: TSN.ca).
The timing of the move is curious. Bob McKenzie of TSN.ca broke the news hours before NHL owners were scheduled to vote their approval on the proposed Collective Bargaining Agreement that was reached Jan. 6 between the NHL and the NHL Players' Association.
While one has to wonder about the exact timing of the move, it appears that the Leafs have made the call based on merit—or lack thereof.
Burke's assistant Dave Nonis will take over as senior vice president and general manager, while Burke moves into the senior advisor role.
Burke's tenure as Leafs' GM has been filled with bluster and righteous indignation, but it has not been about winning, consistency or following a plan.
He deserved to get the gate and probably should have gotten it a year or two ago.
If you look at Burke's time with the Ducks prior to coming to Toronto, that team was able to rise through the ranks and win the Cup in large part because of a strong defense.
In particular, the Ducks had the goaltending to gain the title in the person of Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
The Leafs have not had good—or even decent—goaltending at any point during his tenure. If Burke were a solid general manager, he would have addressed and solved this issue early in his run in Toronto.
One of Burke's moves in Toronto was acquiring Giguere in early 2010. At that point, he was struggling in Anaheim and Burke was hoping the change in environment would help him return to form. That did not happen.
Burke also wanted to make the Leafs bigger, stronger and tougher. One of his attempts to do that was trading for Dion Phaneuf in January 2010. The robust former Calgary defenseman had the reputation as a hard-nosed player who could lead his teammates.
He certainly has the size at 6'3" and 214 pounds, but the Leafs have not followed his lead. If anything, Phaneuf does not seem as much of a tough guy as he was during his run with the Flames.
Burke's decision to trade for Boston Bruins restricted free agent Phil Kessel prior to the start of the 2009-10 season may be the primary reason that his tenure in Toronto will be branded as a failure.
There was certainly pressure on Burke to improve and bring in a potential superstar. Kessel had scored 36 goals in his last season with the Bruins and there was every reason to think he would continue to put the puck in the back of the net.
Kessel responded for the Maple Leafs with three consecutive 30-plus goal seasons. However, the Leafs gave up high draft picks for Kessel that resulted in Boston's selections of Tyler Seguin, Dougie Hamilton and Jared Knight.
Seguin is on the cusp of superstardom, Hamilton will likely be one of the NHL's most highly touted rookies this season and Knight has the wherewithal to become a productive player.
These players could have been the core of the Leafs if the trade had not been made.
The year before the Bruins drafted Seguin, the Leafs drafted a player who was expected to become an explosive scorer in Nazem Kadri with the seventh pick of the first round in the 2009 draft.
Kadri has not delivered to this point, having scored 19 points in 51 games over three years. He also reported to Toronto Marlies training camp in less-than-stellar shape (source: TheStar.com).
That does not mean he won't become a solid pro, but it's not a choice that Burke can look at with pride.
The Leafs have been in the middle of rumors that they will soon be acquiring goalie Roberto Luongo from the Vancouver Canucks (source: CBC.ca). It will now be Nonis's responsibility if they are going to complete that deal.
The pressure to win in Toronto remains high. That responsibility now shifts to Nonis.